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Snow [Jan. 5th, 2010|07:01 pm]
[Frank is feeling |chipperchipper]

Snow snow snow snow snow. Snow.

I still have a child-like love of snow, I have to admit. Alas, this means that I may have to walk to work tomorrow. One of the disadvantages of living close to work is that I can never claim that it's impossible to get in ;)
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Happy/Merry Christmas/Festivus/Saturnalia/Hannukah/Solstice! [Dec. 27th, 2009|01:09 pm]
[Physical location |Bridlington]
[Frank is feeling |cheerfulcheerful]

Well, I'm back up in Bridlington for the festive season, which is where both my parents and my sister and her family live.

I've gotten some nice presents (Left 4 Dead 2, woot!) and more importantly got to meet my little nephew, who's now 9 weeks old. He seems to be the best behaved baby imaginable, and hasn't been annoyingly loud at all. Meeting him made even me feel a little broody, which is a hard feat to manage ;)

My little niece is now 8 years old, and it's good to see her again, too, even if she can be quite a bit of work at times. Since I only really see her at Christmas at the moment, I can't really say "Gaahhh! Leave me alone for 10 minutes and let me relax!" so I just play whatever random game she wants and wait for 9:30pm, when she has to go to bed ;)

I bought my parents a digital TV recorder for Christmas, which is basically Sky+ but only works for Freeview channels. This will hopefully save them from constantly trying to figure out which of a billion VHS tapes the last episode of Coronation Street is on, and *where* on the aforesaid tape it is. Having gotten used to using the digital TV browser/guide, the interface doesn't seem to scare them too much either, which is good.

Roll on New Year!
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Let me be your filthy, gibbering, lunatic priest... [Dec. 13th, 2009|11:55 pm]
[Frank is feeling |amusedamused]

[via Pharyngula, unsurprisingly]
LinkEnlighten me

Review of Dragon Age: Origins [Nov. 29th, 2009|06:45 pm]
[Frank is feeling |reviewy]

Dragon Age Origins is the spanky new roleplaying game from Bioware, makers of the classic Baldur's Gate, Neverwinter Nights and Mass Effect. Personally, I loved Baldur's Gate 1 & 2, but Neverwinter Nights pissed me off a bit as it removed the party aspect to leave you with a single minion that was carefully programmed to do the stupidest thing at any given time. Mass Effect, on the other hand, was great, as a Star Trek-esque romp of shooting things and seducing attractive blue alien women.

So, I started up the game and made myself a male human mage, mainly because I have a complete lack of imagination but at least I thought I'd avoid being a bog-standard fighter for once. After dragging a million appearance-related sliding bars around I came out with the following, where Phadian the mage on the left:

It was well worth killing someone for my sweet furry shoulderpads

One of the novelties of Dragon Age is the addition of origin stories, which are effectively a unique bit of story and a few quests that occur before you get into the story proper. There are 6 of these, and the one I did complete (in the Circle of the Magi) was very good, and some of the characters introduced there then appeared later on in the game. It would be interesting to play through again to see what story differences there are with different origin stories and races.

Of course, at some point I decided it was highly entertaining to remove my armour and spend my time having serious conversations with people wearing only my pants. Just like real life!

I'll take this one... in my man panties...

Quite a few gaming aspects have been drafted in from Bioware's previous games, and in general these are the good ones. Like Baldur's Gate, you once again have proper control of your entire party, which is good, and can switch between your 4 party members and get them to do exactly what you want. This is highly necessary, as the AI itself is depressingly dreadful - I guarantee that you will spend a hell of a lot of time with your party on "Halt" mode, as your computer-controlled partners will, with absolutely no hesitation, run directly into the area of effect of the huge whirling tornado of fire that you've just cast if you do not. You will undoubtedly shout at the monitor multiple times "Nooo! Don't run there you stupid bastard!", but by that time the party member in question will already be on fire and doing what I have dubbed the "flame mosh"

You can set up a series of actions for each party member, such as "heal someone when they get below 50% hit points", and for things other than offensive mages these do work reasonably well. However, there isn't an AI option for "Only cast a fireball if it won't end up engulfing the entire party, you moron", which is reminiscent of the Baldur's Gate explosive arrows, the friendly death toll of which was only ever matched by the bouncing lightning traps.

As another example of ways that the AI is deficient, you can get a very handy control spell as a mage that imprisons a given enemy in an invincible shell for a while, allowing you to temporarily remove a boss from combat while you take care of his minions. Of course, your party will still try and run directly up to him/her and use all their special abilities while shouting "My weapon is useless!", forcing you to once again return to micro-management in order to get them to be useful. These are all issues that could and should have been fixed in the AI.

My other major bugbear (haha) is the camera control, which you often have to actively fight against in combat. You either have a top down-ish view which won't you scroll anywhere near enough (to, you know, let you target the mage that's blowing the shit out of you), or an over-the-shoulder camera which makes it hard to target enemies and area-effect spells, and nothing in-between. Also, the camera gets stuck on scenery a lot in built up areas (particularly Denerim) which can be highly frustrating. For such a gargantuan project, you think they could have put a few more man-days into this key aspect of the interface.

My last annoyance is the difficulty and frustration associated with some of the battles. Although putting long protracted battles can give a feeling of epicness, if the player fails towards the end then getting the motivation to start the whole thing again is a lot harder. The best exemplar of this is Final Fantasy 8, where I got to the final boss and fought against the damn thing for an hour, at which point it transformed into a different form and turned my entire party inside out by sneezing on me. I had no reason to believe exactly the same thing wouldn't happen again the next time, and I couldn't be bothered to play for a full hour just to give it another go. Epic battles should have save points. Although there's nothing as bad as that in Dragon Age, sometimes the larger battles (especially a particular one involving undead) did pass through challenging into god-awfully irritating. As in Baldur's Gate, there's also quite a few "Ooh, what's that? Oh, my entire party is dead" encounters.

OK, so that was all a bit of a moan, but generally the game does play very well, and the story makes up for a lot of the minor annoyances with the actual gameplay.

Oh wait, one more quick moan: where the fuck was all the lyrium dust in the world? I think I got 12 pieces over the entire course of the game, and it's the main component for one of the most important potions (mana restoration).

Like Mass Effect, you get a choice of love interests, although none of them really did anything for me here. Here, as a male you have the choice of an evil sorceress, a religious fanatic who hears voices or a gay elf. I didn't find any of them particularly enamouring, especially as the religious fanatic (the "good" choice) had the most annoying accent ever conceived combined with a lisp. She's also ginger. I ended up knocking up the evil sorceress anyway, but only on the condition that I didn't have to pay child support.

Some of the moral choices in the game are highly engaging, and there are some good twists in some of the quests. For the record, it's incredibly useful (perhaps a bit too useful) to max out the persuasion skill on your main character, as that means people will basically always do as you ask. It seems there is no random component in the skill checks in this sense, simply some kind of threshold, so you can pretty much guarantee success.

Overall, it was definitely worth playing through, and there is a lot of very good content in there, but a few aspects were quite disappointing given the standard I've come to expect from Bioware.
Link2 comments|Enlighten me

Drumming! [Nov. 19th, 2009|11:48 pm]
[Frank is feeling |chipperchipper]

I had an evening of drumming with misspotsitt - it was a lot of fun, and we got a lot of it organised :)

We have now sorted out more or less what we're going to be doing on December 5th in the Jazz Club (nice!) for this event, where I get to be her little drumming monkey. Look, it says Live Drummer, and I am both alive and a drummer! I may have to buy a gorgeous new drum to celebrate, although I could probably already organise a decent pot-smoking hippy drumming circle as it is.

Hell, my bedside table is my largest djembe.
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Battlestar Galactica [Nov. 15th, 2009|10:22 pm]
[Frank is feeling |thoughtfulthoughtful]

Hmm, I just watched the final season of Battlestar Galactica. I'm a little non-plussed, and I may write a proper entry on it under an LJ cut at some point in the future. If I get time.

The ship sinks.
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Lennon was a complete bastard. [Nov. 15th, 2009|04:00 pm]
[Frank is feeling |amusedamused]

From the Have Your Say on "What does faith mean to you?"

"No wars have been started in the name of atheism" Really. Try telling that to the millions killed by Stallin. The millions killed in the boxer rebelllion in China-By an Atheistic government.Paul Pot, Lennon...the list goes on. Christianity is evidence based folks. I dare you to look for yourself, instead of copying what everyone else is saying.Science came from theism-men driven to know more about their God. "Condemnation before investigation is ignorance" (Einstein). Ignorance-intolerance.

Damn that Paul Pot. And Lennon: what a complete bastard!

Ignoring the hilarious ignorance for a second, this is something that gets brought up a lot, as a reason for why atheism is evil. Hitler usually also gets lumped in with this bunch as well, despite the fact that Nazi soldiers wore "Gott mitt uns" on their belt buckle.

The simple response to this argument (when slightly better formed), is that most such atrocities have been committed by Communist (the standard bastard implementation, rather than the idealised one) governments, which happen to be atheistic. I've always thought that Communism tends to atheism simply to have complete control: if the people are allowed to keep their religion then they have two sources of power telling them how to behave, rather than just one, resulting in conflict.

I, personally, would really hate to live in a country where religion was outlawed: freedom of (and from) religion is very, very important. People should always be allowed to believe what they want, and other people should always be allowed to criticise them for it. If I suddenly became leader of a country, the worst I may do is remove the tax-free status of religions, except for activities which genuinely involve helping people rather than just proselytising.
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Pope releases Christmas songs [Nov. 13th, 2009|11:29 am]
Pope Benedict XVI releases album for Christmas

To appeal to a more modern era, the Pontiff has decided to add a rap in the middle of the chants. Here is an excerpt:

"Here I am, in the Vatican,
Chillin' wit my homie,
His name's Yahweh, I'm his favourite,
So those Protestants can blow me.
Got my palace full of virgins,
And a fucking huge hat,
That Archbishop of Canterbury
Can go spin like hell on that.
Yeah, I may have some mad ideas
And others may not like my tactics
When I send my gang to Africa
To lie 'bout prophylactics."
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Eddie's Romcomathon [Nov. 12th, 2009|06:46 pm]
[Frank is feeling |amusedamused]

Recently, my friend (and ex-housemate) Eddie endured a Romcomathon for charity, which is his most truly hated genre of film.

I'm not trying to beg money off you (it's done now), but if you fancy take a look through his live blogging of the event here, as his rants are always entertaining.

To add a little personal flavour to this post, I'll point out that when we were living together Eddie once drank enough port that he fell asleep naked on the bathroom floor. When he eventually woke up he became convinced that it was his personal responsibility to make time go forward, and thus just lay there naked concentrating on our bathroom clock.

He also spent an entire evening at one Glastonbury with a girl who looked like an asian Angelina Jolie who, after all the substances in his system had worn off, turned out not to exist. He has a lot of photographs of empty spaces from that day.
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The conspiracy grows deeper... [Nov. 11th, 2009|05:59 pm]
[Frank is feeling |uncomfortableuncomfortable]

It seems the squirrels are resorting to desperate tactics and have been forced to hire a black cat to work for them as an assassin. I should have known this would happen.

This morning, as I was cycling to work near to the wooded Evil Squirrel HQ, a black cat started crossing the road in front of me, and then just stopped dead in my path and turned to look at me. This is not normal road crossing behaviour, and was an obvious ploy to make my slam my brakes on or swerve into a nearby car.

Luckily, the four-legged merc had sprung his ambush prematurely, meaning that I had enough time to slow down safely before he stopped playing chicken and finally scampered out of the way. Ha, feline assassin, my nerve is greater than yours!

Dr Frank 4 - Evil Squirrel Conspiracy 1
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